During the past week backcountry skiers have triggered more than 10 avalanches in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. Although nobody was seriously injured there have been some dangerous close calls.

There were six reports of skier-triggered San Juan avalanches in the Wolf Creek Pass area. And another five in the western San Juan Mountains. That’s just from reports people submitted to the CAIC.

On Monday a party of skiers near Wolf Creek Pass was caught in a relatively small avalanche that went up to the skiers’ knees. No one was injured.

On Tuesday near Wolf Creek Pass a skier was “knocked over and partially buried, head and one arm and ski out.” Another skier had to help the person extricate.

“No injuries or broken gear, so we were thankful for the somewhat gentle reminder that accidents can happen anywhere and it’s good to have partners that can rescue you in case of one,” the person who wrote the report said.

Skier caught in two avalanches

The skier was caught and carried about 100 to 130 feet and deployed an airbag. They were “pushed and knocked around but able to stay upright.”

The skier then came to a stop and got the airbag operational again. Attempting to ski down, the skier was caught in a second avalanche. They were carried another 100 to 130 feet and deployed the airbag again.

“Similar to (the first) slide … skier was caught, carried and knocked around but able to ski to right of deposition path just before being carried into trees,” according to the report.

Avalanche danger remains a concern across the state

A San Juan avalanche, CAIC
A San Juan avalanche

People triggered at least 12 avalanches just on Thursday.

“Our current weak and dangerous snowpack persists,” the CAIC wrote. “There is potential for avalanches to be exceptionally fatal this winter in Colorado.”

The snowpack has not been this unstable and weak since 2012, Ethan Greene, CAIC executive director, said in a previous interview.

The unstable snowpack is a result of early season snow in October and dry weather for weeks in November, causing the snowpack to become weak. Then, additional snow on top of that weak layer causes avalanches.

“How weak the snowpack gets depends on how the fall unfolds,” Greene said previously. “This particular year, the underlying snowpack is really weak.”

So far this winter season, four people have died in avalanches.

According to the CAIC, avalanche danger on Friday in the southern San Juan Mountains is listed as “considerable.”

“Avalanche conditions are slowly easing, but many slopes remain dangerous,” the report said. “Without a new load, you may not see natural avalanche activity, but many slopes are very weak and just waiting for a trigger.”

Friday, January 1, 2020

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